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Orange County | Dana Parsons

We Have Our Jam, We Have Our Beef

August 03, 2003|Dana Parsons

Who says you can't find a good laugh on the front page of the newspaper?

Californians from San Francisco to San Diego must have gotten side aches last week while reading our Page 1 story that said traffic congestion is a sign that things are going well. The logic: Crowded roads mean that this is a happening place.

(This suggests, by the way, that the recall of Gray Davis is off-base. If traffic congestion is a sign that things are going well, voters have nothing to complain about. Does it take you 2 hours and 45 minutes to drive from Corona to Newport? If so, vote to retain the governor!)

I recently entertained friends from the Midwest. I directed them on what I thought would be a leisurely midweek trip to Cambria. The first thing they told me when they returned was that it took them an hour to get from one end of Santa Barbara to the other.

Drat their timing. Had they stayed longer, they would have read the article and learned that their inch-by-inch slog on the 101 was a sign that they're in a special place.

And that they should be happy about it. "Congestion is inevitable," one transportation expert said. "Get used to it."

That's poor transportation bedside manner. How would you like to hear your doctor say, "I realize you have no feeling in your hands or feet. Get used to it."

Nope, until there is much wider use of powerful mood-altering drugs, Californians are not going to equate traffic congestion with a sense of personal well-being. Most likely, they'll equate it with a sense that they're wasting a lot of freakin' time while they're sitting in freakin' bumper-to-bumper traffic for no obvious freakin' reason but that they don't have a lot of freakin' choice because they aren't freakin' Superman and don't have a freakin' helicopter at their disposal.

If I read our story correctly, the transportation experts are saying that traffic congestion is a test of mind over matter. Yes, you're stopped dead for no apparent reason. No, the jerk in front of you isn't exiting even though he's had his blinker on for the last 12 miles. Yes, your kids are hollering in the backseat. No, you don't have a cell phone to let anyone know you'll be 45 minutes late.

Still, you should remain calm. At times like that, the experts say, take a moment to thank your lucky stars you're living in California, where the sun shines all the time and that you're not in any of those dreadful hellhole states between California and New York.

You could also put the time to good use. Some music or maybe one of those audio books. If you're going from Orange County to L.A. at rush hour, you probably could polish off "War and Peace" on the way in and "The Brothers Karamazov" going home.

I suspect the transportation experts want people to make peace with congestion because they spend all of their waking hours thinking about their subject and they're fed up with people complaining. Lawyers get tired of lawyer jokes; traffic people have their pride too.

For that reason -- and because staring at highway grids and traffic density tables causes people, over time, to go stark raving mad -- the experts want to brainwash us. They're betting that if we keep repeating, "I'm stuck in traffic, I'm lucky to be here/I'm stuck in traffic, I'm lucky to be here," eventually we'll believe it.

Can it work? Can you find peace within yourself, even while trying to decide whether cutting off the clown behind you was worth it, just to advance one car length?

Of course not.

We drivers understand what transportation people do not: that traffic congestion is a Southern California way of life.

And so is griping about it.

*

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821, at dana.parsons@latimes.com or at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

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